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The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature
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53 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2005
One of the most widely read and respected authors in Wicca and Earth-based spirituality, Starhawk, has written no less than ten books on the subject. Her most recent book, "The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature" that was published in 2004, is an amazing combination of spiritual, emotional, practical and even political aspects of Earth-based spirituality. Written in twelve chapters with ample footnotes and references, the first four chapters deal primarily with understanding and recognizing what is sacred in Earth-based spirituality: the Earth and all of its many components, from the land, the water and all living things from the smallest to the largest. The most important lesson here is to realize that the Earth is much more than its individual components, which runs counter to Western science and philosophy that tend to view things in a purely mechanistic and compartmental manner as exemplified by the seventeenth-century French philosopher René Descartes. Granted, great scientific understandings have been attained by this philosophy; but it fails in its understanding of emergent characteristics and patterns of complex systems as described elegantly by Fritjof Capra in his book "The Web of Life". However, where Fritjof Capra presents his book from a purely secular perspective, Starhawk expands this view into the spiritual aspects, including the realization that our ancestors aren't just humans, but also the myriad of single-celled creatures and bacteria that gave the Earth an oxygen-based atmosphere through the gifts of chlorophyll and photosynthesis. For without these, we would not exist.

The next aspect that Starhawk examines extensively is observation. If one is to learn how to read and understand Nature and what the Earth is speaking, one must learn how to listen to the birds, insects, plants, trees, the ground, the water, etc. To achieve this, Starhawk includes a number of meditative exercises focused on learning to understand a particular animal, plant, insect or even fungus. Some may not be interested in fungi, but Wicca and Earth-based spiritualities recognize the interconnectedness of all things, as well as the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. For without death, there would be no life and no rebirth. Fungi, which on the surface may not seem particularly spiritual, is at the heart of death and rebirth because it is fungi that break down dead matter into its essential elements so that they can be reused and renewed. A prime example is Starhawk's "Fertility and Decay" meditative exercise on pages 163 through 166. Starhawk's meditative observation techniques come in particularly useful for understanding each of the four elements (air, fire, water and earth, as well as spirit in the center) that are an inseparable part of Wicca and Earth-based spirituality. I also especially liked the blessing for each element that Starhawk wrote for each element at the end of each element's chapter.

Interlaced throughout the book, Starhawk includes writings from her personal journals involving her life, home and the areas surrounding her home. These include such things as the nearby rain-fed streams, building maintainable & reusable sources of energy, sharing seeds and plants with neighbors, eating organically-grown food and living harmoniously with the Earth, as opposed to constantly taking from and polluting the Earth as so many U.S. and international corporations have done. This is where the political aspects come into play as Starhawk addresses such groups as the World Trade Organization, whose policies were designed to ensure corporate profitability (including the patenting of life forms) at the expense of the environment and individuals. Starhawk makes no distinction between the political and spiritual when it comes to the Earth because pollution, clear-cutting, the introduction of genetically-modified organisms, the use of herbicides, insecticides, pesticides and other synthetic chemicals in the environment are all-too-often harmful to all life, the environment and the Earth. To this end, Starhawk makes various recommendations for the various little things that each individual can do to help the Earth.

Overall, I found Starhawk's book "The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature" to be well written and an extremely useful resource that deserves a very high rating of 5 out of 5 stars. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in having a more intimate relationship with the Earth, the elements and the many creatures that share this planet with humanity.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2004
Starhawk has been a great favorite of mine ever since reading her book "Dreaming the Dark" for the first time many years ago. And she continues to impress and inspire me with each new book she brings out. "The Earth Path" is a definite step forward into a very mature view of the practice of witchcraft. It stands out from all others I have read -and I read a lot. In "The Earth Path", Starhawk moves away from the usual focus on rituals and meditation, and instead grounds the book in practical ideas of observation and creation, and her writing is as always witty, intelligent and politically informed. Her wiccan spirituality here focuses on learning to see the beauty and magic in the natural world. Rather than filtering nature through a goddess mythology to gain some esoteric appreciation, she shows how by taking the time to observe and reflect on the patterns and structures around us with open eyes, we cannot help but to be awed by the magic that moves grows dies and is reborn again everywhere we look. Once again Starhawk, I thank you for sharing your vision with us.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2005
If you are looking for something to read that will change your life you cannot go past Starhawk's latest book "The Earth Path" which is her best so far. Whereas her previous book "Webs of Power" was about explaining the international global justice movement and what it is fighting for, in this new book Starhawk focuses on the local intimate landscape and gets down and dirty with permaculture. Permaculture is a holistic method of horticulture, agriculture and landscape design, originally invented in Australia by Bill Mollison, which seeks to establish a kind of perpetual, self-sustaining `wild' bounty. Why is this important for Witches? Starhawk wants to emphasise how so much of modern magick is abstracted into intellectual concepts, nature is idealised, romanticised and despite our claims to "worship" nature, most urban Witches are really not particularly familiar with just what "nature" actually is. Starhawk urges us to dispense with tokenism regarding Witchcraft concepts such as the four elements and the Goddess and God, and instead become cognisant of the real elements - real tangible fire, water, air and earth, real sky, real plants, real land. How does water actually work in your environment? What are its cycles, what is its source? What is the relationship of fire to you, to your environment? How does fire behave out in nature compared to on a candle wick? Starhawk has an enthralling story-telling ability which makes this book really interesting, plus to help us to observe and participate in grounded reality she provides eighty exersises, meditations and rituals. Personally, I'm a huge fan of seeking truth in nature even if what we find there may not always be pleasant or good for our egos. I believe that nature is both the source and goal of Witchcraft and that we owe it to ourselves to rend the veil of illusion and stare boldly at the Goddess Earth in all her incomprehensible glory as Starhawk advocates. This book is a boon for beginners and jaded old-timers as well. Highly recommended.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2005
Earth Path is largely a discussion of nature, ecology and environmental sustainability/stewardship. It's a welcomed and wanted addition to the Earth Spiritualist/Pagan library. Ironically, in religious and spiritual traditions believing the Earth to be sacred and in which holiday, ritual, and wisdom are founded in the rhythms of nature, too many of us aren't well-schooled in the science and ecology of those rhythms. Sure, there are clues in our liturgy, symbols, metaphors, much of our ritual... all beautiful elements of Pagan culture, but not the whole story, in my opinion. As Tori Amos sings, "I think the good book is missing some pages." Or perhaps... the Earth, herself is the "good book" and she's missing some readers! :) It isn't just a problem of Earth Spiritualist culture... education and awareness about ecology and sustainability are not yet standard, stable parts of public education. I've even seen environmental science teachers have to fight for their right to remain in curriculum, threatened alongside other disciplines like art and music that are tragically considered expendable.

Earth Path is a vital effort to raise awareness and introduce readers to a study of ecology with Earth Spiritualist sensibilities. What must we know and what can we do to become better citizens of the Earth community, to be in right relationship, both physically and spiritually, with sacred Earth? How do we expand beyond anthropocentric interpretations of her ecology? We must do our best to learn her many languages, her curves and crevices, how she breathes, what tones her muscles and makes her bones strong, what she likes for breakfast, and what she doesn't: what makes her stressed and unhealthy, what gives her a yeast infection, what makes her hair fall out. We must study and learn from our past and current generations of human relationship with her, from what has worked and what hasn't, as well as how we might improve our relationship into the future. The more intimately we can understand, perhaps the more difficult (or less easy) to betray her best interest, whether by short/narrow-sighted human self-interest or by accidents of well-meaning ignorance.

Earth Path offers 70+ rituals, meditations, and exercises, a chapter on observation, a chapter proposing "Earth-Centered values" among Pagans, and a chapter about "What Every Pagan Should Know About Evolution," which could be helpful for navigating the current political and religious debates about the subject in science education. The book also organizes information and practical exercises around chapters focusing on Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and Center. For example, in the "Air" chapter, there is a discussion of birds that includes info. about learning the five voices of songbirds: the call, the song, the feeding plea, male-to-male agression, and the alarm call. This section is followed with one titled "What the Birds are Saying About You." Wouldn't we love to know! :) The Air chapter also discusses topics like insects, microclimates, global warming, wind, weather-working, and more. Woven through, there is information and inspiration for developing sustainable culture and community and for aligning personal and group practices like Sabbat celebrations with the goings-on of nature and season in your area.

The more we understand, the better we can work as Changers, to "Live in the world today the way [we] want it be in the future." (Alice Walker) With Earth Path, Starhawk offers a solution-oriented text for learning more about the "nature" of Earth Spirituality.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2006
In The Earth Path, Starhawk discusses the elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water and ways that we can connect with each in order to work towards healing the environmental damage we've done to the Earth in the past. The book is mainly concerned with returning to amore natural state of living, i.e. growing own food.

This is a very "Starhawk" book. There is a lot of good advice as well as inpiring and emotive writing, hidden amongst a dearth of tangents on anything from the latest protest to seedballs as a microcosm of the Earth. Starhawk is infamous for her political rants and for the most part, I don't mind them. Occasionally in this book though they took away from the advice she was trying to give about permaculture.

My other complaint is that she'd be explaining how you would go about desiging or building a particular drainage system or the like and yet never fully explain why. Once or twice she just lanched into "Here's how to do this," with no explanation as to the purpose of it. The implication was that you already knew why.

Other than that, I enjoyed each of the explorations on the elements. I liked how she applied the elemental energies to practical everday things we could see in effect in our areas and all the practical exercises to connect with each element were simply enough for a relative beginner but a more advanced practitioner could still find beenfit from them. I particularly liked how she talked about how you could work with each element to better the environment, for example the chapter on fire talked about cnserving household energy usage.

I also found the book to be motivating to get out there and do something. I think the practical sugestions is what helped there. Instead of just saying "The envornment is realy important so we should heal it," and stopping there, Starhawk then goes on to say exactly how you can make small steps toward doing just that. It was also good that she tied in the knowledge of and respect for naturein with the spirituality of Paganism. She made a very good point that although most Pagans reer nature, most don't know terribly uchaout it.

This is basically a good book with some minor irritants. I don;t think it'll go down a a classic but it is usful and a great jumping off point or Pagans wanting to explore a more environmentally friendly way of living.

Rating: ***1/2 (3.5 stars out of 5)
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2004
In between her writing ventures, I seem to forget why and how much I admire Starhawk's work. Then her next book or essay is released and I am reminded all over again of the reasons her philosophy grounds me in the profoundly sane dream of a better future.

Her most recent book, The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature (HarperSanFrancisco, 2004) serves as a guide to developing awareness of the most basic (and, as such, perhaps most elusive) elements of the natural world. Retreating somewhat from the frenetic pace of the streets in Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising (New Society Publishers, 2002), The Earth Path takes us to Starhawk's home in the Cazadero Hills and through a journey of observing earth, air, fire, water, and spirit - the elements that sustain all life.

The opening chapter uses the fairy tale of the Isle of Birds to illustrate the author's desired outcome for this journey. In the story, a king sends his beloved son to learn the language of birds. After 21 years, the prince learns to hear, to understand, and to respond. For some inexplicable reason, this angers the king (perhaps he expected his son to learn marksmanship?), but the moral of the tale (and subsequently the entire book) is the importance of deep awareness and the simple fact that such awareness requires time and attention.

In addition to the author's stated intentions, The Earth Path serves as a wake-up call to Pagans that our spirituality involves a tangible and intimate relationship with nature, not just a theoretical acknowledgment of it. The book gently chastises Pagans who have allowed their relationship with the earth to slip into the abstract - perhaps for fear of getting cold, dirtying ritual garb, encountering insects, or simply because our culture places very little value on activities that foster deep awareness. As a result, few Pagans have "time spent talking to trees" penciled into our day planners. A tragedy for us as well as the trees! Indeed, Starhawk takes the whole culture to task perhaps more for keeping us so ignorant of the ecological processes on which our lives depend. As she notes, it's entirely possible (even common) to be educated all the way to a doctorate level with no more than a 4th-grade understanding of photosynthesis and often no education at all as to how our local ecologies sustain themselves nor how our communities can sustain themselves without interrupting this ecological self-regulation.

Readers who have followed Starhawk since she first published her best-known work, The Spiral Dance (Harper and Row, 1979), will delight in watching her evolve in her spirituality and its application. Throughout what has become a veritable canon, we watch her grow from an idealistic girl to a mature woman whose strength and wisdom has only aggregated over the years. The Earth Path will not disappoint her fans and students. It remains as accessible and unpretentious as her previous writing, with the honesty and emotional vulnerability that has always left her readers feeling we know her. Of course, it also includes the insightful, ironic, and sometimes piercing wit for which she is known and loved. Do not ever pick up a Starhawk book if you expect to come away smugly comforted in your personal righteousness! While her ideas indeed comfort and ground, they do not bolster an I'm-ok-you're-ok placidity. She relentlessly challenges our imaginations to stretch upward and outward.

In fact, her latest book contends that constriction of the imagination shapes our perception and awareness. For illustration, Starhawk tells the story of the 2003 Sacramento protests against biotech and industrial agriculture when police confiscated buckets of seedballs, believing them to be projectile weapons. The irony of the situation is both humorous and sad, but well exemplifies the principle that what a person is able to imagine creates categories for making sense of the world - the broader one's imagination grows, the greater variety of things that will make sense. In the rigidly-controlling hierarchies of our culture (such as law enforcement), where constriction of the imagination facilitates predictability of behavior and uniformity of obedience to command, a greater number of things become nonsense and likely to engender fear before understanding.

One key to expanding the imagination is, according to Starhawk, ceasing to care what others think, creating a space with the freedom to think about anything at all. As Pagans, we are in a privileged position to do this since we already exist on the fringes of the "respectable" institutions of Western society, such as academia.

I found myself both disagreeing and feeling challenged by this idea. On the one hand, many Pagans have worked hard to bring earth-based religion under the umbrella of "respectability" - establishing Pagan traditions as legally-recognized churches, securing seats on various ecumenical councils, organizing Pagans in military and police ranks, educating the courts, employers, and general public as to the relatively "normal" lives of most Pagans, right down to changing the dictionary definition of the word "witch". Cultural behemoths, like academia, are, indeed, slow to change. But they do change and I don't believe we're as far removed from academic respectability as Starhawk suggests, especially considering that many of today's Pagan leaders are highly educated. I see academia as similar to the places Starhawk talks about where two ecosystems meet and their diversity creates a mutual benefit and richness for both.

On the other hand, this question of respectability is a good reminder not to compromise what sets us apart from our predominantly alienating and exploitative culture. Religious movements tend to start out loosely organized, culturally marginalized, and socially radical. As they gain numbers, prominence, and respectability, a vicious circle of compromise to gain acceptance is set into motion (usually with a hard lurch to the political right; the Mormons are America's most recent example of this phenomenon). Starhawk's words challenge us not to compromise our values or who we are for public acceptance.

Overall, The Earth Path gives us a practical ethos of questioning how any given action will impact the whole, using deep attention to each element as a guide. Interwoven with this ethical paradigm are some treats new to Starhawk's readers. The text includes the clearest explanation of grounding and anchoring I've ever heard. The author's courage in defending meat-eating (is there a hotter topic anywhere in Pagandom?) is testament to her honest and principled character - the reader may not agree with her, but after taking such a risk, it's impossible not to trust her. Each chapter tackling an element provides useful metaphors for translating that element's nature into principles that guide our lives. For example, Air can teach us how to transform force rather than wall it off or be blown about by it. Fire is a metaphor for manifesting will from a small group of enthusiasts all the way up to the transformation of larger structures. Each chapter includes delightful lessons in permaculture that tantalize the reader to learn more. Starhawk's theory of Gaian Evolution, outlined in Chapter Four, has the potential to change our existing paradigms with the same explosive force as Charles Darwin.

At times, the book's intended audience is a bit unclear. Much of the language and ideas seem aimed for the Pagan community. Even as early as The Spiral Dance and Truth or Dare (HarperSanFrancisco, 1988), Starhawk was moving beyond the boilerplate, Paganism 101 fare of much of Pagan literature, filling a void for Pagans who had long ago learned to cast circles and needed weightier ideas to sink their teeth into. However, at other times, the text slips into explanations of the simplest Pagan history and theology. I found the history of the witch burnings a bit incongruent and a subject that has simply been done to death, with conflicting data, in practically every Pagan book ever published. Similarly, the basic explanation of the Sabbats is probably redundant for most readers and, for anyone needing that basic information, the rest of the book will likely be confusing.

In the end though, such minutiae is inconsequential. This is easily the best non-fiction I've read in 2004 and I encourage readers to find their favorite outdoor spot to curl up with The Earth Path and allow it to open their attention to the life cycle around us that is so important and so pervasive that it is too easily forgotten. For those returning to Starhawk's work, The Earth Path will be a welcome addition to their collection. For those who have not yet had the pleasure, I encourage you to run, not walk, to introduce yourselves to the challenging work of one of the most important philosophers of our time.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2006
I bought this the day before I moved and maybe that's why I find it so meaningful. I've been in a situation of rootless-ness and upheaval and Starhawk seemed to help me see why this is so unsettling to me. It has helped me understand the path I'm on and where I need to go. Environment, a home, knowing the land around us have great spiritual significance for many of us. Read this and follow with a shot of Thoreau.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2005
In this book, Starhawk aims to provide a much needed anchor to the Pagan community--to remind us that we are part of the surrounding eco-system and that the basis of any "Earth-based" spirituality should be the Earth itself, instead of abstraction and symbolism.

However, she advocates this through presenting rituals that involve a minimal amount of observing or understanding nature...and focus instead on abstraction and symbolism.

She also reiterates the role of humanity as "caretakers of the Earth", which always inmplies a degree of separation from the natural world, and places us above it.

That said, her rituals and meditations are beautiful, but if you _really_ want to connect to the world around you, why not study the mystery and beauty of nature for what it is, instead of how it relates to you?
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2004
Starhawk's, The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit In The Rhythms of Nature, may just provide an antidote to the poisonous, narcissistic, corporate nationalism and dominionist, fundamentalistic, theocrats who are bent on tearing the world apart in order to impliment a pre-established agenda - one where retention of power and control take precedence over anything even vaguely resembling ethical, secular, humanism.

With a myriad of sacred suggestions, this author supplies ample exercises, examples and inclusion of the four traditional elements (air, fire, water, earth) - grounded within the circle - in order to guide readers through reinforcing accounts of ways to not only reclaim personal power, but also enliven a process for transferring and sharing the magical quintessence of empowering others.

Throughout the text, Starhawk intigrates many themes, such as: the vital importance of attunement, attentiveness, and reconnection. Likewise, sustainability, respect and reverence resonate and validate the philosophy of Gaiaism. The need to restore balance is preemminent.

Reconceptualizing the craft and magic might be necessary for anyone who has not transcended the conventional, stereotypified preconceptions associated with negativity from threatened belief systems that act as rivals to the ancient practices that predate written languages.

The people who most need to read this book will likely shy away from it, primarily due to the fear engendered in challenging their own antiquated myths of monotheism.

Still, I highly recommend this text for opening minds too long closed. An awakening is occurring, and those who wish to be prepared for a great leap in cosmic consciousness would do well to garner both insight and enlightenment from the words of a wiccan/pagan dreamweaver.

*The Perilous Pen*
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2009
Modern Paganisms like to call themselves "nature religions" because their key metaphors are rooted in the cycles of the seasons and the natural world, but as one friend of mine says, "Sometimes it feels more like we're living-room carpet religions." If you're feeling like you're more in touch with the dust-bunnies under your furniture than with the elements, plants and animals in your environment, this book is for you. Actually, this book is for anyone who lives on this planet and is concerned about its fate. Informed both by science and spirituality, this beautifully-written book takes the reader through the four elements plus spirit in search of our deepest ancestral roots (bacteria, anyone?)and the intricate systems of interdependence between all the life-forms and elements on earth. It will inspire you to connect (or re-connect) with nature and perceive its inherent mystery, sacredness and magic.
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